Patients in Alberta are at greater risk of negative health outcomes as ambulance services struggle to keep enough crews on the road, according to some health-care professionals.
The problem has created ripples throughout the health-care system, forcing the closure of some health services in small communities.
Dr. Stephanie Cooper is a high-risk obstetrician at Foothills Medical Centre and says ambulance availability has changed the advice she and her colleagues give to pregnant women.
“They have to be counselled, they need to call EMS sooner and in some cases people are avoiding the ambulance and they’re just getting a family member to drive them or potentially driving themselves, which is really quite dangerous,” she said.
The Health Services Association of Alberta says paramedics are badly short-staffed and struggling to keep up with increasing call volumes.
“We’re running out of people to do the work that we require on the front-lines of health care, just last week in EMS, 350 infilled shifts in the province, in Calgary alone we dropped 12 units in a single day,” says HSAA president Mike Parker.
Those ambulance delays create ripples through the health-care system.
“By the time the EMS provider gets to somebody’s home, they’ve already lost a lot of blood and maybe that person now needs an unnecessary blood transfusion,” said Cooper. “But those things aren’t tracked.”
She says it could be years before the statistical evidence is available to show how delays and staffing shortages are impacting the health of women and newborns, as it’s often difficult to prove a direct relationship between any single, delayed treatment and a worse outcome.
But spread across hundreds, or even thousands of patients, trends will eventually appear, even if the specific underlying medical causes are not easily identified.
“In some ways we’ll never know, or maybe we’ll only know when something terrible happens,” said Cooper.
In a statement, AHS says it’s working to restore service to smaller communities as soon as possible, but years of low birth numbers have added to the challenge of keeping qualified staff available and properly trained.